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Tar-water was a medieval medicine consisting of pine tar and water. It was foul-tasting, and so it slowly dropped in popularity, but it was revived in the Victorian era. It is used both as a tonic and as a substitute to get rid of "strong spirits". Both of these uses were originally advocated by the philosopher George Berkeley, who lauded tar water in his tract Siris, a chain of philosophical reflections and inquiries, concerning the virtues of tar-water.
The use of the medicine is mentioned in the second chapter of Charles Dickens's Great Expectations. Young Pip and his brother in law, Joe, were often force fed it by Mrs. Joe, Pip's elder sister, whether they were ill or not, as sort of cruel punishment.
In the introduction of his Journal of A Voyage to Lisbon, Henry Fielding considers tar-water a panacea for treating dropsy: "But even such a panacea one of the greatest scholars and best of men did lately apprehend he had discovered (...). The reader, I think, will scarce need to be informed that the writer I mean is the late bishop of Cloyne, in Ireland, and the discovery that of the virtues of tar-water". By the Bishop of Cloyne, Fielding refers to the above-mentioned philosopher George Berkeley.
- B. A. G. Fuller: History of Philosophy: Modern, "Locke, Berkeley and Hume"
- David A. Grimaldi: Amber - window to the Past. New York 1966
- Henry Fielding: Journal of A Voyage to Lisbon